Behind the Headlines: Njcrac Plan Gives Blueprint on Issues from Reunification to Abortion Rights

Want to know what the American Jewish community thinks on issues ranging from German reunification to reproductive choice?

The answers can probably be found in this year’s edition of one of the lesser-known but highly useful tools for reading the political mind of the American Jewish community: the Joint Program Plan of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

The positions outlined in the 1990-91 Joint Program Plan, which was released last Friday, have evolved throughout the year in a series of meetings of Jewish community relations professionals and lay leaders, which climaxes each February in the annual NJCRAC plenum.

At the plenum, held in Phoenix this year, representatives of the 13 national Jewish agencies and 117 local community relations councils that belong to NJCRAC debate, argue and eventually hammer out as close to a consensus position as it is possible to achieve in the Jewish community.

The organization’s leaders say that what emerges from each year’s laborious process of debate and compromise is an accurate picture of where the American Jewish community stands on domestic and overseas issues, which can be used as a guide for those in the Jewish community relations field.

"Polls have indicated that the positions outlined in the Joint Program Plan are reflective of the U.S. Jewish community," Lawrence Rubin, executive vice chair of NJCRAC, said at a news conference releasing the 1990-91 Joint Program Plan.

FORAY INTO ISRAELI DOMESTIC POLITIES

New issues tackled in this year’s edition include German reunification and the issue of democracy and pluralism in the State of Israel. In addition, NJCRAC’s traditional positions on church-state issues, reproductive rights, civil rights and outlook on world Jewry are summarized and updated.

The Democracy and Pluralism in Israel section was one of the more "controversial" in the plan, said Arden Shenker, chairman of NJCRAC’s executive committee.

The section recommends that the Jewish community relations field support "efforts to codify basic human rights principles in Israel" and "Israeli government programs and initiatives by private organizations that promote democracy and pluralism" in Israel.

Rubin and Shenker said that the inclusion of the Democracy and Pluralism section marks the first time NJCRAC has entered the realm of what many would consider internal Israeli affairs, something the American Jewish community has often been reluctant to do publicly.

But Rubin argued that "the health of Israel’s democracy is of concern to the American Jewish community."

The section was one of several in which the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, a NJCRAC member, dissented from the official NJCRAC position.

"We have long believed that public debate among North American Jews on questions of Israeli foreign policy, domestic political structure and religious integrity are divisive both to our own community and the people of the sovereign State of Israel," the Orthodox Union wrote in its dissent in the Program Plan.

The Orthodox group also differed from NJCRAC positions on a number of church-state issues and on the umbrella organization’s commitment to fight for a woman’s right to an abortion.

O.U. objections to an activist pro-choice stance have prevented NJCRAC from filing Supreme Court briefs, since member agencies have veto power over any action taken in NJCRAC’s name.

In such cases, NJCRAC will still act as a coordinator for those agencies who are participating in the pro-choice fight, with each agency participating in its own name, instead of under the NJCRAC rubric.

STRICT CHURCH-STATE DIVISION

On church-state issues, NJCRAC upheld the historic Jewish stand in favor of strict division between church and state, including opposing the display of Chanukah menorahs and Christmas trees on public property, and opposing any assistance from the federal government to religious schools.

Though some Jews have argued that menorahs are a positive assertion of Jewish identity and that Jewish schools could use the federal dollars, "the price is too high to pay" in terms of the separation of church and state, Shenker said.

The most vociferous dissent on this came again from the O.U. which called "for a reassessment of the traditional NJCRAC position on this issue. We accordingly welcome the call for substantive dialogue on issues such as tax tuition credits and religious holiday displays."

NJCRAC’s leaders are well aware that trends in U.S. federal courts are going against American Jewry’s relatively liberal domestic agenda.

The Joint Program Plan points out that "the changing composition of the Supreme Court requires continued scrutiny, especially in light of concerns about threats to the Bill of Rights."

For the first time, NJCRAC grappled with the issue of German reunification in this year’s Joint Program Plan. In a special statement adopted by the group’s executive committee, there is a call for the memory of the Holocaust to be "institutionalized" in the newly reunified German nation.

A GERMAN HOLIDAY OF REMEMBRANCE

NJCRAC urged the new Germany to make the date of Kristallnacht a holiday of remembrance, educate their people about the history of the Holocaust, maintain a special relationship with Israel and strictly monitor the development of anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi hate groups.

"The Jewish community relations field seeks assurances from the Federal Republic of Germany that the social contract that will constitute the new, more powerful Germany will acknowledge Germany’s acceptance of responsibility for the Holocaust," the statement said.

The cause of memorializing the Holocaust in Germany suffered a setback this month when leaders of the two German states signed a unification treaty that made no reference to the Naziera. Unification of East and West Germany is set for Oct. 3.

Rubin said NJCRAC is developing plans to meet with German officials to press its concerns on this issue.

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